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US soldier convicted of theft in Russia and sentenced to nearly 4 years in prison

MOSCOW — A court in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok on Wednesday convicted a visiting US soldier of robbery and making threats to kill, sentencing him to three years and nine months in prison.

Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, 34, flew to the Pacific port city to see his girlfriend and was arrested last month after she accused him of stealing from her, according to U.S. officials and Russian authorities.

Russian state news agencies Tass and RIA Novosti reported that the judge at the Pervomaisky District Court in Vladivostok had also ordered Black to pay 10,000 rubles ($115) in damages. Prosecutors had asked for four years and eight months in prison.

Black’s case comes amid tensions over Russian arrests of American journalists and other American citizens as fighting continues in Ukraine.

Russia has jailed a number of Americansincluding director of corporate security Paul Whelan and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. The US government has classified both men as unlawfully detained and has attempted to negotiate their release.

Other detainees include Travis Leak, a musician who has lived in Russia for years and was arrested last year on drug-related charges; Marc Fogel, a teacher in Moscow who was sentenced to 14 years in prison, also for drug abuse; and dual nationalities Alsu Kurmasheva And Ksenia Khavana.

The U.S. Department of State strongly discourages American citizens from going to Russia.

Black was on leave and returning to his home base at Fort Cavazos, Texas, from South Korea, where he was stationed with the Eighth Army at Camp Humphreys.

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Cynthia Smith, an Army spokesperson, said Black had signed up for his move home and that “instead of returning to the continental United States, Black, for personal reasons, moved from Incheon, Republic of Korea, through China to Vladivostok, Russia flew.”

Pentagon policy requires military personnel to obtain clearance from a security manager or commander before any international travel.

The US military said this last month that Black had not applied for such a travel authorization and that it had not been approved by the Ministry of Defense. Given the hostilities in Ukraine and the threats against the US and the military, it is extremely unlikely that he would have received approval.

Black’s girlfriend, Alexandra Vashchuk, told reporters earlier this month that “it was a simple domestic dispute” in which Black “became aggressive and attacked her.”

“He then stole money from my wallet and I did not give him permission to do so,” Vashchuk said.

On Wednesday, she told Russian news outlet Gazeta.ru that she found the punishment “quite humane” and described Black as “violent and unable to control herself.”

U.S. officials have said the married Black met Vashchuk in South Korea.

According to U.S. officials, she had been living in South Korea and last fall she and Black became involved in some sort of domestic dispute or altercation. Then she left South Korea. It is not clear whether she was forced to leave and what role South Korean authorities played in the case.

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